Profile: Xi Jinping, the man who leads CPC on new journey
Over the past months, he addressed a ceremony marking the Party’s centenary, announced the realization of a moderately prosperous society in all respects, inspected Tibet, talked to astronauts working at China’s first space station, attended online meetings of the United Nations, and held phone or video talks with world leaders, including Russian President Vladimir Putin and U.S. President Joe Biden.
Next week, Xi, general secretary of the Communist Party of China (CPC) Central Committee, will attend a high-profile Party plenum — the sixth plenary session of the 19th CPC Central Committee. A landmark document will be tabled at this important meeting — the resolution on the major achievements and historical experience of the CPC’s 100 years of endeavours.
Few political parties worldwide could boast such a long history and uninterrupted period of state governance. The CPC has been China’s ruling party for 72 years. Presently, Xi is the core of the CPC leadership. Before him, generations of central collective leadership had spanned the decades with Mao Zedong, Deng Xiaoping, Jiang Zemin, and Hu Jintao as chief representatives.
Since being elected general secretary of the CPC Central Committee in November 2012, Xi has been seen as a man of determination and action, a man of profound thoughts and feelings, a man who inherited a legacy but dares to innovate, and a man who has forward-looking vision and is committed to working tirelessly.
Under his leadership, China is becoming a powerful country, and is now entering an era of strength, according to Channel News Asia.
On the new journey, Xi is undoubtedly the core figure in charting the course of history. How will he lead the Party in the face of opportunities and challenges? How will he bring China back to the world’s center stage? Today, the world is watching Xi just closely as nine years ago.
WALKING WITH THE PEOPLE
In September, during an inspection of the village of Gaoxigou in northwestern Shaanxi Province, Xi stopped by farmlands to check the crops and chat with villagers working in the fields. Xi hailed the achievements of local poverty alleviation. Gaoxigou was once an impoverished village; today it is prosperous thanks to the relentless efforts of cadres and villagers.
It was in 1974 in Shaanxi’s Liangjiahe, about 150 km from Gaoxigou, that Xi joined the Party. He was just 15 years old when he arrived in Liangjiahe in 1969 as an “educated youth.” He would spend the next seven years living in the small village on the rural Loess Plateau; at the end of a day’s labor, he would return to his primitive cave house and sleep on a simple clay bed. It would take 38 years and multiple postings across various levels of the Party’s hierarchy until he would be elevated to the top job.
After joining the CPC, Xi became Party secretary of Liangjiahe. Shedding light on his caliber, one of his village colleagues said Xi “worked conscientiously, had many ideas and could unite the people and cadres.”
Recalling his time in the impoverished village, Xi said what he wanted more than anything was to make it possible for the villagers to “have meat on their plates.”
To improve the lives of those who called the community home, Xi initiated various projects, including wells, terraced fields, and methane-generating pits. These “simple” projects would have a significant impact on the villagers’ lives, work, and attitudes.
In his spare time, the young Xi devoured as many books as he could. In particular, he read Das Kapital three times; his reflections on the seminal work filled 18 notebooks.
His father, Xi Zhongxun, was among the first generation of CPC central leaders. Xi Jinping often evoked the wisdom imparted to him by the elder Xi. Inspired by a much-loved school book, he decided he would carry on the revolutionary torch from a young age.
In 1975, Xi was admitted to the prestigious Tsinghua University in Beijing. After graduating, he first worked at the general office of the Central Military Commission before moving to Zhengding, a county in northern Hebei Province, in 1982.
Recalling the move to Zhengding, Xi said he had volunteered to work at the grassroots level among the people. He said he wanted to “love the people like he loves his parents.”
After Zhengding, Xi’s political career took him to the coastal provinces of Fujian and Zhejiang and the metropolis of Shanghai. Wherever he went, his close ties with the people were notable. He wrote heartfelt essays commemorating his deceased friends and colleagues in Zhengding. He used his own money to help finance the medical treatment of a villager from Liangjiahe.
Xi’s care for the people can be seen in every aspect of his work. Zhang Hongming, one of his colleagues back in Zhejiang, still remembers Xi’s attitude and work ethic when the province was hit by typhoons.
“Even if nine of our ten evacuations are for nothing, we still need to do it to ensure the absolute safety of the people,” Zhang said recalling Xi’s instructions.
Xi’s people-centered philosophy explains why he ordered unwavering efforts to save people’s lives at all costs during the COVID-19 epidemic, said Liu Jingbei, a professor at the China Executive Leadership Academy in Pudong, Shanghai.
In 2007, Xi returned to Beijing to sit on the Standing Committee of the Political Bureau of the CPC Central Committee and later became China’s vice president. He oversaw areas including Party building, organizational work, Hong Kong and Macao affairs, and preparations for the 2008 Beijing Olympics.
At the age of 59, Xi was elevated to the Party’s most senior post in November 2012. About a month later, he braved the winter cold to visit poor villagers in Hebei. Sitting down with them, Xi asked about their income, and if they had sufficient food and enough quilts and coal to stay warm through the winter. Xi said his heart sank when he saw that some villagers were still struggling to make ends meet.
STRENGTHENING THE PARTY
The year 2021 is also the ninth year of Xi’s signature anti-corruption campaign, the most extensive in Chinese history. It shows no signs of letting up.
More than 20 high-level officials and executives in the financial sector have been punished or investigated this year. And in the past 30 days or so, one former ministerial-level official in the central government’s law-enforcement apparatus was investigated while another was punished.
When Xi was elected general secretary of the CPC Central Committee, China was already the world’s second-largest economy. Yet, it faced challenges from within.
“Facts prove that if corruption is allowed to spread, it will eventually lead to the destruction of a party and the fall of a government,” Xi said in a stern warning.
Over the past nine years, more than 400 officials at ministerial level or above have been punished or investigated, including a former member of the Standing Committee of the Political Bureau of the CPC Central Committee and two former vice chairmen of the Central Military Commission. From 2014 to 2020, over 8,300 fugitives were repatriated from more than 120 countries and regions.
“In a critical time, Xi turned the tide,” said a foreign media editorial.
Xi has ordered efforts to “lock power in the cage of systemic checks.” He also spearheaded the establishment of the National Supervisory Commission. All public sector employees came under supervision following the supervisory reform.
As general secretary of the CPC Central Committee, Xi has led efforts to formulate and revise around 200 intra-party regulations. He also launched five Party-wide education campaigns to firm up the ideals and convictions of Party members and ensure they act effectively and in unison.
Xi also attaches great importance to intra-party democracy. Solicited comments from CPC members are now incorporated into all Party national congress reports, documents reviewed at plenary sessions, and major Party documents, decisions, and reform policies.
By June this year, the number of CPC members had grown to 95 million, 10 million more than the population of Germany. Experts in China affairs say the Party has become more disciplined, pure, and powerful.
Xi Jinping is enjoying greater support within the CPC now than ever, said Neil Thomas, a China observer.
In 2016, the sixth plenary session of the 18th CPC Central Committee established Xi’s status as the core of the CPC Central Committee and the whole Party.
Without a strong leadership core, the CPC would find it hard to unify the entire Party’s will or build solidarity and unity among people of all ethnic groups. It would not be able to achieve anything or carry out any of its “great struggles with many new historical features,” said Wang Junwei, a research fellow at the Institute of Party History and Literature of the CPC Central Committee.
In October 2017, Xi Jinping Thought on Socialism with Chinese Characteristics for a New Era was officially instituted at the 19th CPC National Congress. The thought was enshrined in the CPC Constitution and China’s Constitution.
Like Mao Zedong and Deng Xiaoping, Xi has advanced the adaption of Marxism to the Chinese context and kept it relevant, said Xin Ming, a professor at the Party School of the CPC Central Committee (National Academy of Governance).
MAKING CHINA STRONG
After the Opium War of 1840, China was gradually reduced to a semi-colonial and semi-feudal society. It was bullied by foreign powers and suffered from poverty and weakness.
“What a humiliation! China was trampled upon at that time,” Xi said when recalling that part of history.
The CPC was founded in 1921 to change the situation.
According to Han Qingxiang, a professor at the Party School of the CPC Central Committee, the pursuit of national rejuvenation is marked by four critical milestones — the Party’s founding in 1921; the founding of the People’s Republic of China (PRC) in 1949; the advent of reform and opening up in 1978; and the new era after the 18th CPC National Congress in 2012.
Two weeks after Xi’s election as general secretary of the CPC Central Committee, he put forward “the Chinese Dream” of national rejuvenation. This October, at an event commemorating the 110th anniversary of the Revolution of 1911, Xi mentioned “rejuvenation” 25 times in his 35-minute speech, making it one of the most emphasized messages.
Xi believes that rejuvenation requires both strategic design and hard work. He took the lead by being a man of action. In 2019 alone, he took part in more than 500 important events. His working itinerary covered weekends of about 30 weeks in that year. He revised each draft of major reform plans.
Although Xi has little time for himself, he manages to find time for swimming. This and physical labor during his youth ensure that he has enough stamina to deal with affairs of the Party, government, and the military. More importantly, he is driven by a sense of mission.
“Happiness is achieved through hard work,” he said.
Xi often visits farms, fishing villages, farmers’ houses, small eateries, supermarkets, factory workshops, laboratories, hospitals, schools, and even inspects pigsties and toilets to obtain first-hand information of people’s livelihood.
Zhang Mengjin, a former colleague of Xi’s in Zhejiang Province, said: “Xi takes in enough knowledge day to day so it is impossible to fool him with lies or bragging. We have to be honest when reporting to him.”
Xi has stood the test in the face of numerous hurdles and crises over the past nine years.
In early 2015, when Yemen descended into chaos, he directed the navy to evacuate hundreds of stranded Chinese nationals.
When the United States initiated a trade war against China, he devised the strategy that China does not want a trade war but is not afraid of one and will fight one if necessary.
He also said strengthening dialogue and cooperation is the only right choice for the two countries. “The vast Pacific Ocean has enough space for the two large countries of China and the United States,” Xi said.
From conducting regular patrols in the waters of Diaoyu Islands, fending off the so-called South China Sea arbitration, finding solutions to China-India border conflicts, to facilitating the return of Chinese people illegally detained overseas, Xi has spearheaded strategic and tactical planning and, if necessary, personally intervened.
In 2019, when social unrest gripped Hong Kong, he directed efforts to safeguard the “one country, two systems” cause and crush attempts to instigate a “color revolution.”
On the eve of Lunar New Year 2020, with the COVID-19 epidemic clouding festivities, Xi had a sleepless night. The next day, he convened a Party leadership meeting to discuss the country’s response. Before the meeting, Xi had made a decision to tighten restrictions on the movement of people and channels of exit in Hubei and Wuhan. Time has shown how this strict approach was the only viable option.
Xi introduced “black swan” and “gray rhino” into Party parlance. Han, the Party school professor, identified risk prevention and defusing as a major highlight of the new era.
“It is indeed a huge responsibility and arduous task to govern such a big country,” Xi said when answering a question from a foreign politician. “I am willing to be selfless and devote myself to China’s development. I will not let the people down.”
BREAKING NEW GROUND OF REFORM
When Xi took office as general secretary of the CPC Central Committee, China’s strength had significantly risen after more than 30 years of reform and opening up. Yet, it was not without problems, including downward pressure on the economy, wealth disparities, environmental damage, and social tension. Reforms also encountered some resistance. A more scientific top-level approach was needed.
Xi designed a Chinese model of modernization characterized by an innovative, coordinated, green, and open development path that is for everyone.
Observers say this development vision is intended to lead socialist China out of a development trap reliant on extensive and inefficient growth at the cost of ecological damage, shifting the country to high-quality development, and avoiding situations where the rich become richer and the poor poorer.
As head of the central commission for deepening overall reform, formerly a central leading group, Xi launched a series of reforms that broke new ground while furthering Deng Xiaoping’s reform and opening up.
Reform has reached into diverse fields, spanning land-use policies, Party building in state-owned firms, judicial procedure, family planning, fiscal and tax policies, the real estate market, science and technology, and anti-monopoly.
One reform measure, above all, stands out: the modernization of institutions, which directly impacts China’s long-term development and stability. Its essence is upholding and improving socialism with Chinese characteristics, and modernizing China’s system and capacity for governance.
At times, reforms encountered great difficulties. To address controversies and eliminate obstructions, Xi himself had to give the final say.
Xi headed a group tasked with drafting the document of the third plenary session of the 18th CPC Central Committee. The document centered on deepening overall reform.
Officials and experts who participated in the drafting and appraisals said Xi personally conducted research and made decisions, facilitating many breakthroughs. For example, the new proposition “let the market play the decisive role in resource allocation” resulted from Xi’s vital decision.
“Without General Secretary Xi’s determination, it would not have been possible to roll out many major reforms,” said a source familiar with the process.
To reverse environmental damage, Xi demanded that polluting factories address problems or face closure. He issued a 10-year ban on fishing to protect China’s longest river, the Yangtze. He gave six instructions to demolish illegally constructed villas in the Qinling Mountains, home to giant pandas, snub-nosed monkeys, and many other rare wild animals.
For many Chinese people, environmental improvements are obvious. In 2020, the percentage of days with good air quality was 87 percent in cities at and above the prefecture level. The proportion of surface water with fairly good quality rose to 83.4 percent. As a result, 89.5 percent of Chinese people were satisfied with the environment.
Reforms have made China more open. In 2013, the first pilot free trade zone was established in Shanghai. Now the number of such zones has reached 21, including the entire island of Hainan, which is roughly the size of a small European country. China’s negative list for foreign investment has been further shortened.
While some countries chose to erect trade barriers, China made itself host of a series of global trade and investment fairs. Xi personally initiated the China International Import Expo, one of the multiple national-level expos across the country. China also took the lead in ratifying the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership.
By the end of 2020, China had rolled out 2,485 reform plans in over seven years. The targets and missions set at the third plenary session of the 18th CPC Central Committee had been essentially accomplished as scheduled, Xi announced.
From 2013 to 2020, China’s GDP grew by about 6.4 percent each year on average, contributing more than 30 percent of world economic growth on average for many years in a row. China’s GDP exceeded the 100-trillion-yuan threshold in 2020, or about seven-tenths of that of the United States.
In 2021, China ranked 12th in the Global Innovation Index, higher than Japan, Israel, and Canada. It is the top recipient of foreign direct investment and the world’s No. 1 consumer market.
So far, the most impressive achievement in the new era has been the accomplishment of the “first centenary goal,” namely building a moderately prosperous society in all respects, said Liu Ronggang, another research fellow at the Institute of Party History and Literature of the CPC Central Committee.
The term moderately prosperous, or “Xiaokang” in Chinese, originates from the Book of Songs of ancient China. It is an aspiration for a well-off life cherished by the Chinese people for thousands of years.
The country has the world’s most extensive social security system in scale and the largest middle-income group. Extreme poverty has ended, once and for all.
Over the past nine years, about 100 million people have been hoisted out of extreme poverty.
Xi ordered Party members and officials to be stationed at impoverished villages to carry out targeted poverty alleviation measures at the front line.
Xi himself had visited every one of the country’s 14 contiguous poorest areas. Eliminating extreme poverty was likened to fighting a war. Indeed, the campaign had its fallen heroes, with more than 1,800 people dying in the line of duty.
Xi also comprehensively reformed the armed forces. Reiterating the principle established by Mao Zedong that “the Party commands the gun,” Xi introduced a series of reforms in the military’s leadership and command system, size, structure, and force composition. He demanded the military be combat-ready. He regularly inspected military bases. He boarded China’s first domestically built aircraft carrier and new-generation nuclear-powered submarine.
Gerd Kaminski, an Austrian legal scholar and sinologist, said that after the 18th National Congress of the CPC, Chinese characteristics became an increasingly central guiding principle in all significant issues of China’s development, including its governing philosophy.
In such a process, Xi Jinping Thought on Socialism with Chinese Characteristics for a New Era has stood the test, said Han Qingxiang. “It effectively leads the historical course of national rejuvenation and influences the whole world.”
CONTRIBUTING TO GLOBAL COMMUNITY
Xi has been at the forefront of China’s efforts to engage with and contribute to the global community.
Before the COVID-19 pandemic broke out, he had visited 69 countries in 41 tours and been the first Chinese head of state to attend the World Economic Forum in Davos. He has said that, while spending so much time on overseas visits might be deemed a “luxury,” he sees it as “worthwhile.”
His schedule during overseas visits is usually very tight and can last until the small hours. He had even spent his birthday during an overseas tour.
“Everything we Chinese communists do is to better the lives of the Chinese people, renew the Chinese nation, and promote peace and development for humanity,” Xi said.
Altay Atli, a scholar based in Istanbul, Turkey, noted that there is a transformation of China’s participation in international affairs, whether economic or diplomatic, under Xi’s leadership, and that the world is witnessing the emergence of a major country with global influence.
“The world is too big, with too many challenges, to go without the voice from China being heard, without solution ideas from China being shared, without the involvement of China being needed,” Xi said.
In 2013, Xi raised the notion of “building a community with a shared future for humanity.”
When elaborating on the specifics of his vision, Xi proposed that the international community should promote partnership, security, growth, inter-civilization exchanges, and the building of a sound ecosystem, citing a proverb: “The interests to be considered should be the interests of all.”
A community with a shared future for humanity comes from an excellent pedigree. Political scientists have noted that the notion inherits the Marxist idea of “an association in which the free development of each is the condition for the free development of all,” and the Chinese ideal of “harmony.” It is the most recent proposition on foreign affairs floated by the CPC, following Mao Zedong’s “Three Worlds Theory” and Deng Xiaoping’s “peace and development as two main world themes.”
The response from the international community has been positive. When Xi presented his vision at the Palace of Nations, the United Nations Office at Geneva, in January 2017, politicians, diplomats, and celebrities across the world responded with more than 30 waves of applause in 47 minutes.
Under this concept, Xi proposed a new approach to international relations based on mutually beneficial cooperation and the principle of achieving shared growth through discussion and collaboration in global governance.
“What kind of international order and governance system best suits the world and best suits the people of all countries? This is something that should be decided by all countries through consultation, and not by a single country or a few countries,” he said.
The same principle runs through the framework for major-country relations, as advocated by Xi, which features overall stability and balanced development. On many occasions, he has stressed that if nations maintain communication and treat each other with sincerity, the “Thucydides trap” can be avoided.
By 2019, 180 countries had diplomatic relations with China, a sharp increase from around 30 in the 1950s. Over the past few years, five countries in Central America and the Pacific region established or resumed diplomatic ties with China.
“We have friends in every corner of the world,” Xi said.
When meeting with outgoing German Chancellor Angela Merkel via video link in October, Xi called her an old friend: “The Chinese people put a premium on friendship; we will not forget old friends and will always keep the door open for you.”
The same year that Xi first called on the world to jointly build a community with a shared future for humanity, he also proposed the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). By August 2021, about 172 countries and international organizations had signed more than 200 cooperation documents with China under this framework. According to a report from the World Bank, BRI projects could help lift 7.6 million people out of extreme poverty and 32 million people out of moderate poverty globally.
Xi has personally visited several BRI projects, including the Piraeus Port in Greece, the Smederevo steel plant in Serbia, and the China-Belarus Industrial Park in Minsk, Belarus.
Global development, however, should not come at the cost of the environment, and in 2020 Xi offered a clear signal of commitment when he told the world that China would peak carbon dioxide emissions before 2030 and achieve carbon neutrality before 2060.
“The world should thank China for its contribution to climate change responses,” said former Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd.
Xi offered China’s strong support of the Paris Agreement four years ago and, without China’s support, the agreement would not be the way it is now, Rudd added.
Xi’s commitment to offering a helping hand transcends environmental and development issues. Today, China is a vital force in addressing global and regional flashpoint issues, ranging from nuclear proliferation to pandemic response.
“We need to ‘join hands’ with each other instead of ‘letting go.’ We need to ‘tear down walls,’ not to ‘erect walls’,” he said.
A few months ago, when the abrupt withdrawal of U.S. troops triggered unrest in Afghanistan, Xi had a phone conversation with his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin and met leaders of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization members via video link to call for support of the steady transition of Afghanistan, engage the country in dialogue, and help the Afghan people.
When the COVID-19 pandemic broke out, Xi called for global solidarity and cooperation. By his instruction, China provided anti-virus material for more than 150 countries and 14 international organizations and sent 37 medical teams to 34 countries.
He pledged to make Chinese COVID-19 vaccines a global public good and promised that China would provide 2 billion doses of vaccines to the world this year. The country also promised to donate 100 million U.S. dollars to COVAX.
Over the past 100 years, the world’s most populous country has been on an almost unbelievable journey — from a poverty-stricken nation to one where basic needs are met to its current state of moderate prosperity. Xi deemed this achievement a contribution to humanity.
More than 70 percent of worldwide poverty reduction over the last 40 years was in and by China, which means it realized its poverty reduction goal from the UN 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development ten years ahead of schedule.
Describing her impressions of Xi, Maria Fernanda Espinosa Garces, president of the 73rd session of the UN General Assembly, called him “a seasoned captain” whose contributions, such as advocating multilateralism, the BRI, and the notion of a community with a shared future for humanity, have been significant.
FULFILLING NEW MISSIONS
The CPC plans to achieve national rejuvenation through a pair of goals, known as “two centenaries.”
During the past nine years, as the Party’s most senior leader, Xi has led the country in completing the first step and chaired the design of the second step of this historic plan.
First, socialist modernization should be “basically realized” by 2035, and second, China should be built into a great modern socialist country that is prosperous, strong, democratic, culturally advanced, harmonious, and beautiful by the middle of the 21st century, which will be around the centenary of the PRC.
Supplementary road maps support these overarching goals. Most notably, Xi spearheaded the drafting of the Party leadership’s proposals for the 14th Five-Year Plan (2021-2025) and the Long-Range Objectives Through the Year 2035, which were adopted in October 2020.
Xi has described the CPC’s past century as “a historic miracle” and expressed confidence that the rejuvenation of the Chinese nation is dawning. However, he also warned that this is no time for indecision. “At this critical moment, we must not stop, hesitate or wait,” Xi said.
He warned that achieving national rejuvenation will be no walk in the park, and the coming tests will only become more complex.
“Realizing this great dream demands a great struggle,” he said.
Therefore, the upcoming sixth plenary session of the 19th CPC Central Committee comes at a significant time, as a resolution on the major achievements and historical experience in the Party’s 100-year history will be discussed.
“Over its 100-year struggle, the CPC has accumulated rich experience, understood important rules, developed governance theories and earned wisdom. This great treasure should be summarized to inspire the Party’s governance better,” Han Qingxiang said.
Over the past 100 years, the CPC has adopted just two resolutions related to historical issues, in 1945 and 1981. They analyzed the causes and drew conclusions on important historical events and figures, through which the whole Party came to a clear consensus and thus grew stronger in unity.
“The Party’s previous resolutions on historical issues played a profound role in building consensus and rallying strength to fulfill new missions. This is what we expect from the upcoming plenary session,” said Wang Junwei, the research fellow.
History has emerged as something of a buzzword for all CPC members this year. A sweeping education campaign helped cadres recognize the Party’s history, and a new Museum of the CPC was inaugurated.
On June 18, Xi and his colleagues toured the museum, viewing exhibits such as bonds issued by the Qing government used to pay for the war indemnity required by the unequal Treaty of Shimonoseki; the manuscript of Karl Marx’s notes from Brussels; the list of the 58 CPC members when the Party was founded; the car manufactured in the PRC’s early years; and the model of China’s Mars rover. Each display bore vivid testimony to how the Party led China.
The exhibition ended with a “time tunnel,” linking all significant historical junctures from 1921 until today, leading the audience to the future.
Xi once quoted Mao Zedong, saying that “after several decades, the victory of the Chinese people’s democratic revolution, viewed in retrospect, will seem like only a brief prologue to a long drama. A drama begins with a prologue, but the prologue is not the climax.”
“History has not ended, nor can it possibly end,” he said at the conference marking the 95th anniversary of the CPC’s founding. “The CPC and Chinese people have every confidence in their ability to provide a Chinese solution to aid the exploration of a better social system for humanity.”
After concluding their exhibition tour, Xi and his colleagues took a vow in front of the Party flag, reliving a ritual undertaken by all new CPC members.
“I will fight for communism for the rest of my life,” Xi said, leading the oath.